Monday, November 12, 2012

Book Review, Monday, November 12, 2012: Fooling Houdini

Madame L picked up this book on the "New Arrivals" shelf at her local library and is really glad she didn't spend any money on it.

"Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks and the Hidden Powers of the Mind" is a catchy and enticing title, isn't it. But its author, Alex Stone, is really playing us all for suckers.

As he says at least once in the book, "If you look around the poker table and don't see a sucker, then YOU'RE the sucker." 

And that's how Madame L felt as she read this book.

Because here's the thing: If you want to learn how to fool Houdini, every magic trick imaginable is now available on YouTube. And Alex Stone is apparently the one who started this trend by breaking his solemn oath to a magicians' organization never to reveal their secrets. He gave away a lot of the tricks first in an article in the July 2008 issue of Harpers Magazine, "The Magic Olympics, With tricks explained!" (This article is available online only for readers who have a paid online subscription to the magazine. But don't waste your time and certainly don't waste your money in a subscription to that magazine)

So, Alex Stone, what do you do after you've broken your vow of silence? You go on to make yourself famous by explaining other tricks to whoever will give you sufficient adulation to satisfy your gigantic ego, and then by writing this book, "Fooling Houdini."

So, Madame L found as she got farther into the book, SHE, and EVERY READER of this book, we are all the suckers. Because any item of interest about the world of magicians, mentalists, "math geeks" and statisticians, and "the hidden powers of the mind" is available in hundreds of other locations, and in more accurate presentation.

But Alex Stone doesn't stop there. His ego is so gigantic that he proclaims Jesus Christ himself, as well as all the prophets, including Joseph Smith, to be charlatans. 

Apparently if you make a living deceiving people, you can't help but think that's what everyone else is doing, too.

Thus, Madame L graciously saves her Dear Readers from wasting their time with this book. 

Madame L is also happy to report that although she had to return a REALLY good book, The Signal and the Noise, to the library, she has been able to buy it from since it shot up the best-seller list after its author Nate Silver was found to have predicted the 2012 national and state elections almost to every detail. 

No magic involved here, just sound statistical analysis, which Mr. Silver explains without assuming his readers are suckers or condescending in any way. Madame L hopes to be able to offer a more complete review of this book within a week or two.

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